O’Neill…joined the Citigroup board in 2009, became chairman this year and has played an increasingly powerful role, as most vividly shown by his ousting of Vikram Pandit as chief executive in October, after months of tension. O’Neill, who hand-picked new CEO Michael Corbat, has an uphill task ahead of him. Citigroup is groaning under $171 billion of assets it wants to shed, has high expenses, and its profitability lags behind that of such competitors as JPMorgan Chase & Co. And O’Neill faces the same question that kept him from being a contender for the Citigroup CEO spot: while he can fix a smaller bank, can he revamp a behemoth as complicated as Citigroup? O’Neill, who declined to comment for this story through a spokesman, has provided some clues about his plan to turn the bank around. On a conference call with investors the day that Pandit stepped down, he said that he will follow his typical playbook. A dozen people who have worked with O’Neill over the years say that plan usually involves the ruthless pruning of underperforming operations and deciding which ones are worth additional investment. [Reuters]
Citigroup’s Chairman Has A Plan And It Involves Turning His Weed Wacker, Last Used To Take Out Vikram Pandit, On Bank’s Overgrown BrushBy Bess Levin
Mike Corbat’s Wife Is Gal-Pals With The Wife Of One Of The Guys Abruptly Fired The Day He Was Named CEO, And Other Things Making His First 100 Days At The Top AwkwardBy Bess Levin
Over at the Journal today you will find a story called “Awkward Spot For Citi’s CEO,” which details the various awkwardness encountered by Mike Corbat since he took over as Chief Executive Officer, following Vikram Pandit’s awkward ousting. There is also a delightful bonus round of awkwardness that comes as a postscript to the article, but we’ll get the that later. First, why are things slightly awk for Corbat?
Well, for starters, he knew that Pandit was going to be unexpectedly and unceremoniously fired long before VP did, including the entire time they were on a business trip in Tokyo together. The whole time they were flying over there together, having dinner together, meeting with clients together, taking in shows and doing touristy things when they had downtime from the conference together, he knew Pandit was about to get hit by a truck. No one blames Corbat for Vickles being canned but, at the same time, there is a feeling by a few at Citi that you’d have to be some kind of monster to look a guy in the eye and say “Sure, a trip the the Zen Temples sounds great,” and take in the cherry blossoms and drink sake and do karaoke and fight over who is Scarlett Johansson and who is Bill Murray with him all the while knowing what was going to happen when you got home.
For Vikram Pandit, a trip to Tokyo for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank conference last month seemed routine. But Michael Corbat, the longtime Citigroup executive who joined Mr. Pandit there, knew better. Unbeknown to Mr. Pandit, Citigroup Chairman Mike O’Neill had told Mr. Corbat that the board could seek Mr. Pandit’s resignation as chief executive and hand the job to Mr. Corbat, according to people familiar with the situation. A day after Messrs. Pandit and Corbat returned to New York, that is exactly what happened. A host of financial, competitive and regulatory issues confronts the 52-year-old Mr. Corbat atop the nation’s third-biggest bank by assets. But no task is more critical than soothing workers unsettled by the way the board ousted Mr. Pandit and his longtime right-hand man, John Havens, who ran the investment bank and served as president and chief operating officer. The effort is made even more delicate by Mr. Corbat’s proximity to Mr. Pandit in the days before the coup. Executives say they don’t blame Mr. Corbat for Mr. Pandit’s overthrow, though some wondered how Mr. Corbat was able to sit through the IMF meetings knowing what was to unfold.
Additionally awkward is the fact that there has been chatter around the office and scrawled on the walls of the men’s room that there’s only enough room in this Citi for one guy named Mike, and it’s not Corbat.
Adding to Mr. Corbat’s challenges is the perception among some insiders that he is overshadowed by Mr. O’Neill. Employees have privately joked that of the two Mikes, it is Mr. O’Neill who is truly in charge. People close to Mr. O’Neill dispute that notion and say he has spent little time at his Citigroup office in the past month.
Finally, you have the awkwardness of Mike not only knowing his colleague Vikram was going to be fired, but that his colleague and friend, John Havens, was getting the boot himself, which may or may not have caused auxiliary awkwardness for Corbat on the home front.
Mr. Corbat’s position is all the more awkward given his close personal relationship with Mr. Havens. The two men spent time together outside of work, occasionally vacationing with their wives at Mr. Havens’ Scotland estate.
All good examples of things that could be characterized as awkward to be sure. However, the absolute most wonderful bit of awkwardness to be found in “Awkward Spot For Citi’s CEO,” is, without question, this: Read more »
The Times’s detailed story today on Citi’s deVikrafication is a fun read and adds a lot of information about Mike O’Neill’s coup and its aftermath, but I submit to you that if you found any of it surprising you need to pay more, or probably much less, attention to the conventions of corporate infighting. I pay a medium amount of attention, and the day the news came out I conjectured:
- the board was planning to fire Pandit for a while but made the final decision after the earnings release,
- then it fired him, though “fired” = more or less forced his resignation,
- and this was part of a play for more power by O’Neill, the non-executive chairman,
- and this would likely demoralize other executives because nice things are nicer than nasty ones and a cushy banking sinecure is nicer than Hobbesian war for P&L and efficiency.1
So that’s pretty much what the Times piece today reveals.2 I would pat myself on the back except, was anyone peddling an alternative explanation?3 Well, Citi, I guess, but come on. The notion that Vikram Pandit left Citi of his own initiative, the day after earnings, with no warning, is so absurd on its face that the fact that Citi and Pandit said that he didn’t doesn’t even qualify as a lie. The call on which O’Neill said “Vikram chose to submit his resignation and the board accepted it. Contrary to speculation, no strategic or regulatory or operating issue precipitated the resignation” so clearly meant “we fired the dude because we didn’t like him” that O’Neill shouted at Mike Mayo “Our statement is clear.”
It was! There is precisely one way to read it! That’s the kind of faint-praise statement you make if you fired someone because you didn’t like him but he wasn’t, like, cooking and eating security guards on company property. The statement where he actually chooses to resign – from an unlimited choice set as opposed to “resign or be fired” – looks very different. It comes on the earnings call, for one thing.
You can manufacture outrage about this in various ways. Henry Blodget and Fox Business think that Citi’s characterization of the ouster was fraudulent and/or is being investigated by the SEC; you can add salt to taste, but Blodget has some points here: Read more »
The Securities and Exchange Commission has launched a probe into the messy departure of Vikram Pandit as chief executive of Citigroup and whether the board of directors of the big bank properly disclosed his ouster, the FOX Business Network has learned. One person familiar with the matter says the SEC’s inquiry is informal and has not reached the level of a full-blown investigation. But it is a sign the SEC is clearly interested in the circumstances surrounding Pandit’s official “resignation” from the big bank. Those details have been in dispute since the October 16 announcement. Both Pandit and Citigroup chairman Michael O’Neill have said in interviews and during conference calls with analysts that the decision was Pandit’s to leave the firm. [FBN, earlier]
Just a question of which hedge fund he’ll be riding– his own or his former Old Lane colleague’s. Read more »